Art & Photography Culture Design: Azadi Tower Etsy prints Schauleh Sahba
by Pars Arts
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Design: Cal-Earth eco-architecture environmentalism Nader Khalili Studio 360
by Pars Arts
Iranian eco-architect Nader Khalili died early last month (here is the LA Times obit). He was an advocate of “earth architecture,” inventing techniques for building really cool dome-shaped structures. Khalili founded an institute called Cal-Earth to teach others how to build these houses, which got the stamp of approval from the UN, where he was also a consultant.
I think Khalili’s work is really the pinnacle of an Iranian working to create and promote environmentally-conscious living. He leaves behind a really amazing legacy, which includes several books (one of them a translation of Rumi poems). His books – and the architectural plans for his structures – can be purchased via Cal-Earth.
Studio 360 did an excellent show this weekend that included a bit of a tribute to his work and included old interviews with Khalili. Listen to it by using the player below, or visit Studio 360′s website.
Photo: Los Angeles Times
In her first children’s book, Grow, Watermelon, Grow, New York-based Iranian designer/illustrator Charlotte Noruzi uses both Western and Iranian themes to tell a story from her childhood. The resulting work is bright, cheerful drawings about a little girl who insists on growing her own watermelon.
Because much of the book relies on an elegant mix of styles and some pretty innovative tools (see below for Noruzi’s description of using actual watermelon slices to make prints), it’s also arguably one of the most sophisticated children’s books on the market, especially among those with an Iranian theme. Which is not all that surprising when you consider that Noruzi is a design/illustration professor at Pratt Institute and has a host of other accolades to her name.
I first saw this book and met Charlotte at Mehregan last year, where my friend and I bought her book even though she wasn’t at her booth at the time – we left our money with the sweet Iranian ladies in the adjacent booth and came back to chat her up later. After keeping it to myself for so long, fi-i-i-i-nally (as she writes in her book), here’s a Q&A with Charlotte Noruzi. You can buy the book here.
Pars Arts: Grow, Watermelon Grow is about a little girl’s (your) desire to grow her own watermelon. Why did you choose this particular story for your book?
Charlotte Noruzi: I never thought much about this event in my young life until I mentioned it to my friend, Ronnie Lawlor, three years ago. She was so taken by it and it was after her suggestion that I seriously took into consideration bringing this story to life. Little did I know that I would be starting on a journey of reconnection with my childhood, sometimes painful and sad and sometimes funny and joyful. In a way this book is about sharing myself with the world, bringing to light something kept hidden. On the cover, the girl’s face is half-hidden by the watermelon slice. The desire to plant the seeds, to have them sprout up out of the earth, is the desire to be seen, heard, to feel validated, and also, to see the “fruits” of perseverance, belief and determination. It was very important to prove to my parents that I could grow something too. I realize now the great significance of this simple desire to grow something of one’s own. It’s my hope that these messages come through in the story.
PA: The illustrations in this book really make it quite sophisticated… did the illustrations come first, or the words?
CN: Thank you. I started making one or two line drawings of myself as a child. I was taken aback by how natural this process was, of drawing myself and my family as we once were. The resemblance was shocking. The drawings flowed out as if it had been waiting for a very long time. After that I started writing. Somehow
words create an anchor from which the illustrations can flow. They create the imagery. I remember working this way even as a kid, always illustrating words.
PA: Do Iranian themes or motifs, either classical or contemporary, influence your other work? How about in the classroom, where you work with students as a professor at Pratt?
CN: Iranian themes and motifs influence my work quite often. I love hand-lettering and calligraphy and this comes right out of my Persian roots. The book is very much based on the patterns, colors and designs in Persian art and I was also inspired by Persian children’s books I grew up reading. I often introduce Persian and Middle-Eastern design and calligraphy in the classroom. There is a freedom of expression and strength of language that students seem to respond very effectively to and their work, in turn, becomes freer and more expressive, more unusual. The mix of Western and Middle-Eastern mark-making and graphics always creates rich and unusual results, in my opinion. I guess you can say that about people as well, who are a combination of those “graphics.”
PA: What’s been the response to your book from Iranians? What about non-Iranians? Do they recognize the Iranian elements in the story?
CN: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I think people, both Iranian and non-Iranian, are truly touched by this story. I never imagined such a heartfelt response. There have been numerous moments of recognition/relating to the story when a person will exclaim after reading the first page: “My mother also told me never to eat seeds… I remember that!” or “I tried growing my own seeds once, too.” It’s so great.
Non-Iranians are more curious about the writings in Farsi that I’ve integrated into the illustrations. One person impressed me so much by recognizing the Farsi interwoven into the earth, leaves and worms of the illustration where the little girl is watering the seeds. I think I had an unconscious motivation to “secretly” place Farsi into the art. I did not think anyone would notice so much, which reflects the way I thought growing up, keeping my intrinsic identity a secret so that I was not criticized or looked down upon because of it. But now, people are open to, curious and impressed by my heritage and that is a good feeling. Iranians ask if the story is written in Farsi as well, and that has got me thinking about doing a Farsi version.
PA: Can you describe the process of illustrating this book? I read that you used actual watermelons for some of it…
CN: Yes, I dipped watermelon slices into pink ink and created mono-prints from it. I was curious to see the impressions that the watermelon surface made, the texture and the areas that remained white (where the seeds once were). There’s one print that contains a small “heart” shape, purely by coincidence. I also used the watermelon rind and intertwined my drawings in with them, to make the end pages.
The illustrations are a combination of pen and ink drawings and watercolors. All the art was done by hand. Then I experimented with them on the computer, where I layered patterns creating different visual effects, like batik or silk screen, for example.
PA: You’ve self-published this book; what was that process like, and is it something you’d recommend to others who are looking to enter the children’s book market?
CN: The process of self-publishing was challenging, fun and extremely rewarding. I had initially priced the printing of the book in New York/the States, which at first discouraged me by being exorbitantly expensive. But then I googled printers overseas, choosing one in Hong Kong whose reputation, quality of work and service I was confident with.
I visited Book Expo America (BEA), a publishing event held in New York last summer that brings large mainstream publishers and indie publishers to one place, along with distributors, wholesalers and printers. Luckily, the printer I was going with had a booth there and I was able to talk about my project with their New York rep, who put my mind at ease. It was a little nerve-wracking to think of my book being produced somewhere so far away, where I had little control and no way of going on press to check the outcome! I had to trust it and there was much releasing (of control) I had to do in the process.
The whole process is pretty magical: you send a PDF across the world and a get a bound book in return. And the end result was better than I ever expected.
I would definitely recommend self-publishing as a viable alternative. Attending BEA was an encouraging experience as it gave me the opportunity to talk to several people that had taken that route successfully.
Initially, I wanted my book to be published by one of the big publishers and had it looked at by a few. Although
I received very positive feedback, they wanted me to change the story line and, having several colleagues that
published their work traditionally, I was well aware of the compromising I’d have to do with my artwork and
writing. I was not interested in doing that. I wanted full control. It is important that people also realize that a
publisher will give a nice advance when they agree to publish the book, but you’re book is one of many, and
most of the marketing responsibilities and initiatives fall on the artist/author. So it’s up to them to keep promoting it, not the publisher.
Self-publishing is a harder road, in a way, and there are times where I get discouraged and lose momentum and motivation. But you have to just keep going with it. This book so far had put me in contact with such a diverse group of people. It’s about connecting to others through your art and letting it take you where it will.
PA: Who are your artistic inspirations?
CN: Picasso has probably been the most influential artist in my life. His endless experimentation, curiosity and sense of play is something I have been very inspired by. For this book, I looked at Picasso, Paul Klee and of course, my own culture: Persian miniatures, calligraphy and children’s books, mainly an old one from the ’70s called My Room’s Lizard.
PA: Any plans for other books, either for children or otherwise?
CN: Yes, I have a couple of other books that are in the works and next on my list to be published but for now I am focusing on Grow, Watermelon and seeing where it takes me. I am interested in expanding the book into an animation, teaming up with watermelon farms, and even creating a clothing line, but all that is very much in the future and it’s one step at a time…I have to remind myself of that.
[Image: Grow, Watermelon, Grow book cover, Charlotte Noruzi]
No disrespect to all the hustlers, but every kid with a computer is starting his own T-shirt line these days, throwing some “ancient Persian” motifs or Persian words on those horrible American Apparel shirts that run really small in the first place and then have the audacity shrink to nothing the first time you wash them. Nearly every other booth at 2007′s Mehregan was hawking t-shirts, most of them fairly boring ones, so I’m hoping this trend is on its way out.
Though I’m vehemently opposed to/annoyed by message shirts, including Iranian ones, I appreciate the appeal of wearable art. But because the arty t-shirt category is so saturated, much of it is actually more visual noise to me anyway. Thankfully for the t-shirt designers, I don’t really know anyone else that doesn’t go crazy for these things.
That said, I’m not categorically against t-shirt art, especially when it’s done well. So I am really intrigued by the new project of illustrator and graphic designer Pendar Yousefi, aka Legofish, whose Xerxes Alliance treats the clothing as part of an epic saga: each design generated is accompanied and inspired by related Persian myths, which Yousefi and his business partner are collaborating on re-writing in a short but lofty style reminiscent of American comics. I do wish the stories were a little bit longer, but I think it’s a genre thing. And what’s innovative is that the site is equal parts e-commerce and e-book-in-progress, something I don’t remember seeing anywhere else.
Yousefi is a big proponent of Persian culture: he also spearheaded the Project 300 campaign that encouraged pro-Iranian art to counterbalance the bad karma coming from the movie 300, and a Google-bomb campaign to recognize the Persian Gulf’s name.
The next installment of the Xerxes Alliance, Chapter 3, goes live in February 2008.
[Image: Shahin Edalati/Xerxes Alliance]
Nima Taherzadeh may be the only Iranian man in the world who can pull off a ponytail. You can’t see it in the photo above, but he’s got one and he wears it well. When I met with him in Chelsea on a lazy Sunday afternoon a few months ago, he was wearing a black hoodie and sneakers, and with his quick clip down the sidewalk to the cafe, he looked like any young New Yorker. But Nima is decidedly not ordinary: he’s only 24, and his Parsons senior thesis collection got picked up by Saks last year. Now he’s designing $900 dresses from his Chelsea studio, but he’s cool enough to say he couldn’t afford them yet either.
His collection, like the dress above, has received a lot of praise for being easy to wear for lots of body types, but beyond that it’s just really beautiful – pretty fabrics, good shapes, versatile. I love the huge tie-collar on the dress here, as it’s such an unexpected twist on the ubiquitous shirt dress and a good example of his style. No doubt his training in interior design and work in fashion trending, on top of studying at Parsons, have given Nima his great eye for wearable, beautiful clothing and really smart business sense. I can’t wait until he gets really big and has collections in lower-end retailers that I can actually buy. I haven’t seen his latest collection (this one’s from last year), but if anyone has, please leave a comment! He doesn’t have a website, but you can read more about him in this Fashion Wire Daily article.
Design: fashion I Love Tehran t-shirts Takin Aghdashloo
by Pars Arts
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The message is simple and clear, and graphic designer Takin Aghdashloo’s I Love Tehran shirt embodies the kind of effusive Iran-fondness we like to get behind. If it looks familiar, that’s probably because blogger Hossein Derakhshan has worn it a bunch, once on Canadian TV (case in point: see the photo in this Pars Arts post from early last week), and it’s had some other press. We’ve wanted one for a few months now but were holding off for women’s sizes, which appeared in January.
Takin told us they’re going to have “more colors and 1-2 more designs” later this year, so we’ll keep you posted. Not only do we love this shirt, we love that at $25 a pop, you don’t have to break the bank to get one. Another plus? It’s American Apparel so there’s no sweatshop guilt, and some of the proceeds go to an Iranian charity for children. Buy yours right here.
Pars Arts is happy to bring you something a little different today. Sepideh Saremi and Asad Baheri, fashion neophytes, recently found themselves both intrigued and perplexed by NIMANY, the work of designer Nima Behnoud. Here’s their instant messenger conversation about NIMANY, fashion, and the ethics of cashing in on culture.
Sepideh: ok so we’ve chatted back and forth a bit about this designer nima behnoud’s t-shirts
Sepideh: i’m really conflicted
Asad: and I love that he is using persian calligaphry
Asad: what are you conflicted about
Sepideh: yeah, it’s beautiful
Sepideh: well, for one they’re $70
Asad: that puts it way out of my price range
Asad: I was thinking about designer clothes
Asad: and a friend of a friend of mine has his own label
Sepideh: which one, can you say?
Asad: it’s called Tavik
Asad: it’s not persian, just so-cal
Asad: he’s had stuff appear on the OC and he has some pro-surfers wearing his stuff
Asad: his shirts and board shorts are 30-40
Asad: that I can deal with
Sepideh: is the guy persian?
Sepideh: cool logo tho
Asad: and Tavik sounds persian doesn’t it
Asad: I dunno why
Sepideh: a lot of persians buy louis vuitton and prada and coach crap too tho
Sepideh: so maybe $70 is not out of range for nima’s target audience?
Sepideh: (you’re right, tavik does sound persian)
Asad: I was yelled at the other day for calling louis vuitton LV
Sepideh: i guess it makes me a little sad that i can’t get one because it costs so much… and makes me feel left out
Asad: depends on the target audiance I guess
Sepideh: i read that heidi klum really likes his shirts
Asad: but how many persians are rushing out to buy 70 tshirts with just persian calligraphy
Sepideh: right, exactly
Sepideh: what if you spill something on it, right? jeez
Sepideh: there’s a guy on westwood blvd who does amazing calligraphy paintings and i got one for $120…$120 doesnt seem so bad for a painting but $50 less for a tshirt seems egregious
Sepideh: maybe because tshirts are casual and this goes along with that whole pricey casual thing
Asad: and I didn’t like that cuba campaign either
Sepideh: like $200 jeans and etc.
Sepideh: but a LOT of persians are into it
Asad: I like my threadless $20 tshirts thank you very much
Asad: well I was thinking about a pair of 200 jeans
Sepideh: and threadless shirts are really cool too
Asad: BOSS jeans are the only ones that fit me really well
Sepideh: wow so retro!
Asad: but they are insanely expensive
Sepideh: hugo boss makes me think of the 80s
Sepideh: like, shiny black coffee tables and lots of red lipstick
Asad: lol, they are still around, just selling expensive stuff
Sepideh: maybe i’m a cheapskate then
Sepideh: my favorite jeans cost $20, i get them on sale at express and they last about a year
Asad: you know, one of my favorite pairs of jeans is from target
Asad: does that make me a pauper
Sepideh: everyone does that stuff tho, but dude, back to nimany
Sepideh: another thing that gets me is the very generic punkiness of it
Sepideh: i feel like persian calligraphy’s getting used
Asad: it doesn’t look like it’s something that took a lot of effort
Sepideh: used in the bad way
Sepideh: i feel bad for rumi
Asad: I didn’t feel like wow, this person did a lot of design
Sepideh: altho it looks like he is a graphic designer and has done a lot of other stuff
Asad: that doesn’t bother me as much, it’s normal to recycle cultural icons
Sepideh: i suppose
Asad: but this strips it of its meaning somehow?
Sepideh: i mean when heidi klum says wow these are fantastic
Sepideh: that makes me sorta meh
Asad: cause she doesn’t know anything about the background?
Sepideh: i dont know, maybe i’m still just mad i dont have one
Sepideh: yeah bcz she’s sort of a clothes horse
Asad: well in LA at least persian calligraphy is well known
Sepideh: another thing is i’ve only seen one person wearing one of these nimany shirts and
Asad: at least in the graphic world people know persian calligraphy
Sepideh: he was sort of a persian scenester, so that’s a turnoff
Asad: well those are the persians that buy the LV, CK… brand stuff
Sepideh: but then when i read this history page on his website i was really impressed by the production process for the shirts
Sepideh: tho a while ago there was this feature on iranian.com
Sepideh: remember that?
“East Kisses West”
Sepideh: it feels sort of contrived
Asad: oh yeah, I remember that
Sepideh: “We made hand-distressed denim and held shows in the underground parties in northern Tehran. We sold them to the hipster crowd not to make money but to be cool!”
Asad: from the history: “Behnoud feeds this hunger for unique fashion with unparalleled creativity.”
Asad: yeah I am not buying it
Sepideh: i think that’s an unfortunate sentence
Sepideh: and then he says this: “Unfortunately most of what we are presented today, through the context of Iranian culture and image in the art scene is a melodramatic and sad depiction, referring to a tragic former existence that is no more. That detached and melancholy presentation of the Iranian life style bothers me; not because it does not exist, but because it completely ignores an entirely different face of life and energy, which drives and energizes the youth of Iran.”
Asad: I dunno what that means
Asad: the energy that drives and energizes the youth of iran?
Sepideh: i think it means that he thinks iranian art is too depressing
Sepideh: and that young iranians like to party too?
Sepideh: i suppose we ought to ask him directly
Sepideh: i sort of agree that most iranian art made outside of iran is pretty melancholy/political
Asad: everyone likes to party
Sepideh: maybe that’s because it’s what non-iranian audiences want to see/need to see, maybe it’s a political or personal expression of the artist
Asad: well I dunno about persian art being depressing, there is a lot of persian art that is beautiful
Asad: it’s just that here in the US we don’t know too much about it
Asad: but it exists in europe
Sepideh: i dont think depressing and beautiful are mutually exclusive either tho
Sepideh: so his idea is to show iran’s underground scene…
Asad: you know I just don’t buy the underground scene, christiane amanpour is forever talking about the underground scene
Sepideh: except when that scene HAS to be underground there are definitely implications that are important, right?
Asad: I think they both went to the same basement party
Sepideh: you hear all this stuff about iranian kids rolling on e and snorting coke
Sepideh: i’m not sure if that’s the same underground he’s talking about or what
Asad: there is definitely a music scene, and I don’t think that’s sad and depressing
Sepideh: but my deal is maybe positioning these shirts to new yorkers and etc.
to whom “underground scene” means nothing except that it’s exclusive and cool
Sepideh: i think that does a disservice to the same iranian youth whose underground scene exists bcz they can’t live freely
Sepideh: not to get too “melodramatic and sad”
Asad: so how much would you pay for a nimay shirt
Sepideh: i don’t know…
Sepideh: now that i’ve articulated how they make me feel i’m not sure i’d wear one at all
Sepideh: then again, it’s likely i’m just projecting
Asad: I am not sure if I would wear one, it’s just not me
Sepideh: why not?
Asad: it’s too exclusive and cool
Sepideh: somehow that makes it uncool
Sepideh: like it’s trying too hard
Sepideh: like the persian scenester i saw one of these shirts on!
Asad: it reminds of the persian guy with all the designer clothes and cologne and the mbz
Asad: yup yup
Sepideh: so maybe we’re put off by these shirts reinforcing that stereotype?
Asad: I am at least
Asad: and honestly I think a lot of other people would be too
Sepideh: i think he has a really excellent opportunity to introduce his clientele to persian culture
Sepideh: instead of just stopping at “they’re grabbed by the graphical element”
Sepideh: this is rumi and hafez we’re talking about, it’s not just a graphical element
Sepideh: i think i want it to be more than it is
Sepideh: so i think i’m slightly pissed that the use of persian graphics, which belong to all of us, stops at fashion
Asad: I know what you mean in that aspect, he’s just using things that we consider our heritage to make money
Asad: you want him to add something to it
Asad: instead of just putting it on a tshirt and saying hey it looks cool
Asad: he could put any words on there instead of hafez and rumi
Sepideh: maybe it’s another layer of exclusivity
Sepideh: not only do you have to have $70, you also have to be able to read the shirt
Asad: you have to be super-cool to totally get it
Sepideh: i’m okay not being that cool
Sepideh: i bought a tanktop once with a picture of googoosh on it
Sepideh: it was the only way a lot of people knew i was iranian when they saw me
Asad: did you feel more exclusive in it?
Asad: I have a tshirt with the picture of the national football team on it
Sepideh: or rather, they were confused as to why this white-looking girl was wearinga googoosh shirt, until i’d say hi
Sepideh: so it was a cute way to say “hey, i’m persian too!”
Sepideh: yeah, team melli is cool
Sepideh: i didn’t feel exclusive, but felt more included, if that makes any sense
Sepideh: like wearing a nametag or something, it showed people who i was
Sepideh: pretty powerful for a tank top
Asad: I guess it all depends on which group you are looking at
Asad: we are really big on our groups
Asad: are you aryan or turkish or afghan or ….
Sepideh: i get all googly for pretty much all middle eastern people, and babies from anywhere
Asad: is there any designer clothing line that you would pay 70 for
Sepideh: um well i’ve paid more than that for shoes before
Sepideh: sneakers, no less
Sepideh: but i bought those 4 years ago and still wear them, so maybe that’s different
Asad: I paid about S120 for a pair of kenneth cole shoes
Asad: but they last and are super-comfortable
Asad: but I think that’s different
Sepideh: yeah shoes are different
Sepideh: i can say with absolute certainty that i will NEVER pay $70 for a tshirt
Sepideh: i dont care if coco chanel came back from the dead and stitched it for me herself, it’s just too much money for something i’ll eventually wear to the gym or to bed
Asad: I agree
Sepideh: so hopefully nima doesn’t hate us too much now
Asad: it’s ok
Sepideh: we can’t afford his shirts anyway
Asad: I am already kicked out
Asad: lol exactly
Sepideh: at least we can read them
Asad: good point
Sepideh: take that, heidi klum
Asad Baheri is a Pars Arts contributor and writes at Evil Asad. Sepideh Saremi is the editor of Pars Arts.
I might be the least sentimental person on the planet because I throw away all cards unless they’re really cool-looking. My good friend Sam gave me this awesome card for Christmas a couple of weeks ago which I’ve now got up in my room to remind me of home. Sam is an engineer and one of the most creative people I know, and a gift from him is always accompanied by a card made of pretty paper that’s been folded into some beautiful configuration, impossible to reproduce unless you have a background in origami or industrial design, preferably both (needless to say, his cards never went in the trash). This year’s card was a departure from the past but lovely nonetheless, and I wasn’t surprised to hear that it’s actually from a line designed by his cousin, Nooshin Navidi of MUSE Cards. Some things just run in families, as Nooshin has a pretty diverse art background (silversmithing and gilding among graphic design and illustration, for example) and her cards are really professional. The graphic above is actually just part of my card, which came on nice, heavy black stock and opened up like a reporter’s notebook (as opposed to left-to-right, like a regular card). It’s called the “Instant California” card from the “Instant Infusions” line, which, as you can see, is a “teabag” filled with trinkets. I’m pretty fond of the whole travel line of the “Infusions”. I think it’d be really funny if MUSE did an “Instant Infusion” for Tehran – my choice of trinkets in that one would be tiny versions of a samovar, a book of Hafez, a Persian rug, and a backgammon board. Too bad there’s no good physical representation for taarof, because I can’t think of anything more Iranian than that (and granted, both tea and samovars are Russian inventions but Persians are massive tea snobs).
The short of it is these cards are pretty charming, and mine’s making me miss the beach and sunshine. MUSE doesn’t have e-commerce on the site yet, but you can buy the cards from the MUSE catalog.